The next women’s Strawweight title challenger could be decided inside Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla., this Saturday evening (Oct. 12, 2019) when former division queenpin, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, faces the surging “Karate Hottie,” Michelle Waterson. Thirty pounds north, undefeated Kron Gracie looks for his second UFC victory against veteran Cub Swanson, while Brok Weaver and Thomas Gifford duke it out at Lightweight.
Eight “Prelims” undercard bouts join UFC Fight Night 161’s main event on ESPN+. Let’s portion them out for easy digestion:
170 lbs.: Miguel Baeza vs. Hector Aldana
Five knockouts in six professional wins brought MMA Masters’ Miguel Baeza (7-0) to “Contender Series,” where he faced late replacement Victor Reyna in June. Though “Caramel Thunder” failed to find the finish, the three knockdowns he scored impressed Dana White enough to sign him regardless.
All but one of his (technical) knockout victories have come in the first round.
Hector Aldana (4-2) defeated future UFC competitor Alvaro Herrera in the opening round of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): “Latin America” 2 before falling to eventual runner-up Enrique Marin. He didn’t return to the cage until three years later, when he lost to Song Kenan and Laureano Staropoli but claimed “Fight of the Night” against the latter.
“El Charro” is three inches shorter than Baeza and faces a two-inch reach disadvantage.
I didn’t come away from Baeza’s “Contender Series” appearance terribly impressed. He’s big for the division at 6’2” and has a rock-solid chin to go along with his punching power, but still makes some elementary mistakes in his striking ... especially on defense. It took him 1.5 rounds to stop relying entirely on lead rights and he tried to shoulder roll, of all things, when Reyna opened up. Still, he’s a decent brawler and Aldana figures to give him the fight he wants.
I’m confident saying that Baeza can take Aldana’s best shot and equally confident saying the inverse isn’t true. Baeza’s inability to actually maximize his height and reach will let Aldana land some eye-catching shots, but it won’t be long before either Baeza’s right hand or his knee end things abruptly.
Prediction: Baeza via first-round technical knockout
185 lbs.: Andrew Sanchez vs. Marvin Vettori
If it’s all the same to you guys, I’m just going to reuse my breakdown of this fight when it was scheduled for last month.
Andrew Sanchez (11-4) enjoyed a dominant run on TUF 23, where he secured Team Claudia’s total victory with a decision over Khalil Rountree at the Finale. He opened his Octagon career even (2-2), suffering comeback knockout losses courtesy of Anthony Smith and Ryan Janes, but has since picked up a pair of decision victories.
He stands one inch taller than the 6’0” “Italian Dream.”
Marvin Vettori (13-3) started his Octagon career strong with a pair of first-round submission, but stumbled into a 1-2-1 run and subsequent United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) suspension that put a dent in his momentum. Three months ago, he returned after 15 months away to dominate Cezar “Mutante” in Sacramento.
All 10 of his stoppage wins have come in the first round.
Fix Sanchez’s cardio and you have a genuine contender. Strong wrestling, great Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and good power in his hands make him a difficult proposition for most of the division. As is, it’s hard to have faith in him, especially against someone as aggressive as Vettori. While Sanchez looks to have the technical edge, that won’t last too long once Vettori’s pace starts wearing him down.
A methodical Sanchez can win this, especially if Vettori’s relatively quick turnaround comes back to bit him. I just don’t think he can maintain a comfortable pace with Vettori refusing to get out of his face. Vettori takes over in the second and third to take a comfortable decision.
Prediction: Vettori via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: J.J. Aldrich vs. Lauren Mueller
The run for J.J. Aldrich (7-3) on TUF 22 ended after two fights thanks to a Tatiana Suarez rear-naked choke. She unsuccessfully debuted in UFC after picking up a pair of wins outside the promotion, but came back to win three straight before running into top prospect Maycee Barber.
She’ll have a half-inch of reach on “Princess Tiger.”
Though she didn’t earn a contract for her decision over Kelly McGill-Velasco on “Contender Series,” Lauren Mueller (5-2) got her Octagon opportunity eight months later and made the most of it with a decision over TUF veteran Shana Dobson. An upset submission loss to Wu Yanan followed, after which she dropped a decision to towering striker Poliana Botelho.
She boasts one professional finish compared to Aldrich’s two.
Aldrich has looked remarkably solid lately, even in defeat. Indeed, she was taking Maycee Barber apart before getting clipped, and that performance has me confident about her chances against another come-forward mauler in Mueller.
Mueller’s only real edge her is her size, as she’s a former Bantamweight facing a former Strawweight. It won’t be all that useful if she can’t consistently get Aldrich to the fence, though. Aldrich’s superior movement and striking craft allow her to play matador on her way to a comfortable decision victory.
Prediction: Aldrich via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Marlon Vera vs. Andre Ewell
A skin infection knocked Marlon Vera (14-5-1) out of TUF: “Latin America,” then opened his UFC career 1-2. He has since won seven of nine, including four straight by stoppage.
He has just two decision victories as a professional, submitting eight.
Andre Ewell (15-5) brought a four-fight win streak into his late-notice octagon debut, then made it five straight with a split decision over former champion Renan Barao. He struggled with fellow prospect Nathaniel Wood three months later, tapping to a rear naked choke late in the third, but bounced back to win a back-and-forth war with Anderson dos Santos in June.
He’ll have three inches of height and nearly a half-foot of reach on “Chito.”
I keep saying that the Carlos Condit-style “equally dangerous on the feet and the ground to compensate for bad wrestling” archetype is obsolete in modern mixed martial arts (MMA) and Vera just keeps on winning. That said, Ewell’s a tricky stylistic match up, outranging Vera by a fair margin and offering a funky, movement-heavy style as opposed to the flat-footed firefighting that generally gets people clipped by “Chito.”
Ewell’s takedown defense has admittedly been a massive Achilles’ heel for him, and if Vera does come out looking to grapple, I don’t think “Mr. Highlight” can do anything about it. That said, Vera’s usually happy to let his punches and kicks get things to the ground, a losing proposition against Ewell, who should win enough striking exchanges to edge out a victory.
Prediction: Ewell via unanimous decision
Four more UFC Fight Night 161 “Prelims” undercard matches remain to preview and predict, including a “Fight of the Night” candidate between Deiveson Figueiredo and Tim Elliott. Same time as always, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 161 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+“Prelims” that are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. ET, then the main card portion that will also stream on ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC Fight Night 161: “Jedrzejczyk vs. Waterson” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.